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Iowa Employs Pre-Removal Conferences to Engage Parents in the Child Welfare System Early

Family with a baby

Iowa is using Family Team Decision-Making (FTDM) meetings to engage families involved with child welfare, as well as their support systems, immediately before or after a child is removed from his/her home. The state is making the move to better support families throughout the process of removing a child from the home.

When Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) child welfare staff make an assessment that a child must be removed from his/her home, one of the first steps is to convene a FTDM. FTDM meetings bring child welfare workers together with the family, informal supports such as extended-family members, formal supports such as medical providers or child care providers, a Parent Partner, and a trained facilitator. During the meeting, all present discuss how the removal and subsequent placement will occur and set up supports designed to meet the preliminary safety, mental, physical, and educational needs of the children. The meetings are strengths-based and child-focused; they center on whether a relative can care for the children and, if so, what supports they need. In addition, arrangements are made for family interactions, evaluations are recommended, transportation assistance is offered, and immunization/medical records are exchanged.

This practice began as Pre-Removal Conferences (PRCs) in October 2006 as a partnership between the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Polk County Attorney’s Office, which were implementing ZERO TO THREE’s Safe Babies Court TeamTM approach. Its merit was quickly noted, with workers across the Department requesting PRCs in all cases in Polk County by January 2007. In three months, family conference participation went from almost no families to almost all families. The practice continued to expand over the years to additional counties. In 2015 the state incorporated facilitation of FTDM meetings into the Safety Plan/Family Safety, Risk and Permanency Services contract scope of work. When there is an anticipated removal, DHS workers notify the assigned Safety Plan/Family Safety Risk Services contractor and a FTDM meeting is scheduled.

FTDM meetings support family-centered practices and are effective in ensuring the participation and cooperation of parents and their support systems in providing for the safety, well-being, and permanency of the child. Through this process, a plan is created for a less traumatic removal for all parties involved. As a result of using FTDM meetings, children are put in more appropriate placements, and have safe places for visiting with their parents. Parents are enlisted as partners in a way that honors their expertise in knowing what is best for their children, and are given the opportunity to start working toward reunification before they enter the courtroom. Agency staff have more timely and complete information. Due to the front-loading of services, courts also benefit from FTDMs, with more court time available for contested issues and expedited permanency.

Reviewed February 2020


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